New positive duty obligations are upon us, and it's time to put preventative measures in place to protect all workers from harassment and discrimination. 

Our recent roundtable discussion on Complying with the Positive Duty turned into an engaging discussion on whether industry is ready for the change. These are our key insights:

  • There are parallels with the introduction of the WHS Act

When the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 came out, industry made a shift from simply ticking the box, to living and breathing safety across the dimensions of leadership, culture, risk management and reporting. The result is a workforce today that intrinsically believes that workplace safety is important. 

Positive duty needs to head in the same direction to create safe, inclusive and respectful work environments. Appropriate behaviour must be modelled and driven by senior leaders. Positive duty requires systemic behavioural change which will only be achieved through education, support channels, effective reporting processes, and systems for monitoring. 

  • Consideration of roles and responsibilities is required 

First responders should be adequately trained to lead trauma-informed investigations and provide psychosocial care. Workplace bullying, harassment and assault can result in stress, anxiety, and severe mental health risks such as suicidal ideation. 

It’s the shared responsibility of HR and HSE to ensure cases of bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment are dealt with appropriately. As one example, a ‘Sustainability Team’ could operate as a hybrid between the two departments. Reports must be dealt carefully and decisively, and the levels of incident disclosure should vary within the organisation. 

  • Reporting and response are still being worked out

Industry is at the trial-and-error stage of designing effective processes for reporting and monitoring. There’s little research or determination on the best practice for whistleblower channels, who the first responder should be, and the next steps following the report of an incident. Reporting mechanisms must be inclusive and protect the privacy of those who report so that people are not ashamed to use them. 

We also need to report statistics in a way that doesn't name and shame alleged perpetrators. One suggestion was to omit the specifics of the incident, but categorise it appropriately as 'high potential' or 'medium impact.'

  • Shared duty of care

New positive duty obligations are designed to protect workers, contractors and volunteers alike. In this regard, the positive duty can act as an equaliser in an environment that has typically tolerated a social hierarchy between embedded workers and contractors. Going forward, all PCBUs (persons conducting business or undertaking) have a shared duty of care. 

  • Collaborative systems  

By implementing a system at the industry level that assigns workers and contractors with a unique identifier, we can streamline, standardise and share safety-critical information using one common dataset. This provides the ability to introduce industry-standard awareness training and ensure a common standard.  

This system should give companies the ability to confidentially tag people who may require further investigation before being allowed on-site. This is to prevent repeat offenders from returning to your workplace under a different contracting company, or with a duplicate profile. 

We need to champion the change within our respective organisations, and to seek out opportunities to collaborate with our peers so that best practices are shared. Whilst it is a big mountain to climb, there is no reason why we can’t rally together to create safer workplaces for all. 

— Matt Smith (CEO)

Our research led us to Grapevine, an independent group that has created a whistleblower forum for reporting incidents in the technology sector.


They publicly share and give advice on how incidents should have been dealt with. Their mission statement is “to explore the systematic challenges faced by women and other minorities in the tech space and to push for actionable and meaningful change.”


Another start-up directly addressing the issue of incident under-reporting is RespectXTheir research uncovered that only 4% of incidents are recorded using existing company systems. 

Psychosocial Safety and Respect at Work

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